Well, I’m happy to announce that we’ve finally reached the point when books for juvenile readers set in magical schools don’t feel like cheap, Harry Potter knockoffs. Frank Beddor‘s Hatter Madigan: Ghost in the Hatbox provides middle grades readers with a balance between J.K. Rowling’s fantasy and Beddor’s own take on Lewis Carroll’s Wonderland. The result is a wholly original little book that will delight anyone looking for light-hearted fantasy.
A prequel to Beddor’s Looking Glass Wars, Ghost in the Hatbox follows young Hatter Madigan through his first year at the Millinery Academy. Looking Glass Wars fans will recognize Hatter as the — adult — bodyguard assigned to keep Alyss Heart safe. His origin story involves dead parents, a distant and high-achieving older brother, and a healthy dose of moral lessons.
Unlike Rowling’s orphaned hero, Hatter doesn’t have a strong personality at the outset of Ghost in the Hatbox. He feels honored that the Wellingtons, his Millinery-graduate brother’s old group of friends, accept him into their ranks. When Hatter’s new “friends” bully the underclassmen — including those with disabilities and who come from less prestigious families — he cannot bring himself to stand up to them, at least at first. Imagine if Harry Potter had been friends with Draco Malfoy before finally coming round to Ron and Hermione. Hatter corrects the situation by the middle of the novel, and Beddor does a fine job of showing him struggle to do what is right.
The other striking difference between Beddor’s magic-school series and Rowling’s is that its protagonist doesn’t get into his group of choice. Hatter has his heart set on being a Spade: one of the Millinery’s class of spies. When he is instead designated a Heart — like his brother before him — he feels slighted, and must negotiate his new classes and disappointments.
Parents looking for a middle grades fantasy series that tackles bullying, inclusivity, and common adolescent feelings would do well to pick up Ghost in the Hatbox for their kids. Beddor’s new novel features strong female characters and a realistic protagonist. Although it doesn’t answer all of the questions it inevitably raises, Ghost in the Hatbox is set to propel Hatter Madigan to become the new thing in children’s literature.
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I received an advance reader copy of this book from the author in exchange for this review.
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